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The Safety of Flight

The AP recently released a story concerning a survey done by NASA over four years, ending about a year ago. The survey of 24,000 pilots, commercial and general, showed what is said to be an alarming number of "near collisions and runway interference." What I can guess this means, specifically, is that a more than acceptable number of planes almost flew into each other in the air, and planes coming in for landing have found their runway being used by other planes, planes they would have landed on if they had not been so observant. That's just my guess, though.

No, I can’t tell you exact numbers, except that supposedly the numbers of these dangerous occurrences are about twice the officially reported numbers. You see, NASA has decided not to release the results of the survey since it ended last year. The AP reported that they have been trying to get the information for over a year, but NASA will not cooperate with them. In fact, NASA has actually attempted to destroy the results of the survey, but were stopped by an order from the federal government before they could get it done. Yeah, pretty crazy, right?

NASA claimed that the information could be dangerous if released, but let’s look at what they mean by that:

Release of the requested data, which are sensitive and safety-related, could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of, the air carriers and general aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey.

Yeah. No, they aren’t worried about the safety of the public traveling by air, they are worried about the financial welfare of the companies that operate airlines. Obviously the loyalties of our government have been misaligned, advancing corporate agendas while leaving its citizens unprotected, but that is a different story for a different day.

You are right, there has not been a rise in accidents or disasters related to flight in the past few years, and air travel is probably the safest way to travel. Air travel is safe for a reason, however, so let us do a little more research before we give this subject up. Here is what almost nobody is talking about, what nobody is connecting...

Who is responsible for these types of operations – controlling flight paths to lower the number of near misses and scheduling landing times and locations? Air traffic control, it’s me... So why are air traffic controllers not doing their job better?

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union for air traffic controllers, they are having a staffing crisis. Go ahead, google them and visit their website, it is full of stories of staff shortages and air traffic controllers screaming that they need help. Between a large number of air traffic controllers retiring and a lack of new hires there are less and less air traffic controllers to do the job. The reasons for the falling numbers of air traffic controllers is even more infuriating.

Those air traffic controllers left working are outraged at their lack of a contract with the FAA, who employs air traffic controllers, who they claim is exploiting them through over work, ten to twelve hour shifts with no breaks and little time between shifts, a lack of vacation time and other morale destroying rules. Pay for new hires has also been reported to have dropped to one-third what it was a few years ago, further discouraging new hires.

You might be asking yourself right now, Why don’t they strike to get their demands met and their voices heard? Well, the last time that air traffic controllers took such a bold stance, then President Ronald Reagan set a very important precedent: he fired all of them, every one of them, destroying the air traffic controller's union and laying another serious blow to worker’s rights (oh look, the federal government once again protecting anybody but its citizens).

The FAA claims that the demands of the NATCA are too much and they have forced a contract of their making on the air traffic controllers. However, whether the demands of the air traffic controllers are overboard or if the FAA is being unreasonable, the current situation is not working and conditions are not improving. Steps need to be taken to resolving this situation not only to the liking of current air traffic controllers, but in a way that will encourage new hirings.

What can we do? The FAA employs air traffic controllers. The FAA is a government organization, an organization subject to the rules set forth by Congress. Congress is supposed to be the voice of the people. Write your congresspersons and demand that they investigate not just NASA’s hiding of these survey results, but also the FAA’s refusal to come to a compromise with their employees and sign a contract agreeable to both sides and one that will result in new hirings.

Write to Congress. Protect our flights. Protect worker’s rights.


Sources:
www.natca.net
www.cnn.com/2007/TRAVEL/10/22/nasa.air.safety.ap/index.html
www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16476748
www.govexec.com/features/0807-01/0807-01s1.htm


I have been accused of "fear-mongering" with this article, so I would like to respond to that publicly here:

If it was my intention to make people afraid of flying, or to spread pointless fear, I coud have done what the AP did and just publish some scary statistics and talked about a big cover-up and left it at that. Or I could have gotten on here and said, "BE AFRAID!!" Instead I have attempted to provide understanding of this situation and a means by which to act. Fear-mongering is pointless, fear is paralyzing, only understanding and action brings about change.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

(NOT IN THAT ORDER)
(OR, DECEMBER 29, 2007: THE SEQUEL)

There's a saying that people in a car accident who're sober and see the other car coming at them or are otherwise aware of what's going on sustain more severe injuries, particularly sprains and breaks, than people who're either a) drunk, b) on a lot of prescription narcotics, c) not paying attention, or d) all of the above. This is because they brace for it; tensing every muscle and don't just bounce around the car like drunks and the like do.

I braced myself (not unlike the above persons bracing for the moment of impact) for Christmas this year (the second without my beloved father). Indeed, I ignored all of the Buddhist teachings I've been receiving (it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks). Therefore, I indeed got blue and got angry and felt loss and all of that good stuff that I impose on myself (with less and less frequency, thank God). Would that I'd followed the words of my teacher, "go with the flow of the river, but be mindful of the stones which may be in your way," all would've been a lot more happy.

The cool thing is that it wasn't nearly as awful as I thought it would be.

There was a lot of joy to be had; I just had to look for it. Here's a random sampling of the events of Christmas eve/Christmas day at the restaurant:

  • 12:00 Christmas Eve: my wife calls and says there's no hot water and she smells gas.
     
  • 12:01 I tell her to evacuate the building. Fast.
     
  • 12:02 I call the gas company and wait for seven (7) minutes on the "gas emergency hotline" just to get an operator.
     
  • 12:15 I leave the house, dressed but certainly not showered, fantasizing about what it'd look like if the old restaurant blew up to smithereens and I'd have to build a new one with the insurance money.
     
  • 12:25 I and the gas company dudes arrive at the restaurant at nearly the same time.
     
  • 12:45 The gas company supervisor-dude tells me that a gas valve in our huge, commercial water heater has failed and they must lock the gas valve off (yeah, there's a space to put a lock on the valve) and "tag it" until a licensed plumber can fix it, or if I can wait, they can fix it sometime after New Year's day. They also take a measurement of Carbon Monoxide in the boiler room and determine that our 30-year-old industrial furnace is emitting above-acceptable-levels of CO and must be shut off, tagged and locked as well. No heat. I looked the supervisor in the eyes and said "you must be kidding; this room is ventilated by a three foot-by two-foot louver to the outside - you're going to lock me off on Christmas Eve? Given the fact that there is more than adequate ventilation on both sides of the room, and that the loss of heat would present a serious hardship to our business, couldn't you see fit to take my promise that work on fixing the situation will commence on the next business day? If not, you may then shut off the gas."
     
  • 12:47 The nice man from the gas company looks me in the eyes and says "you couldn't call your plumber for a gas leak on Christmas Eve?!"
     
  • 12:48 I told him that the gas company recommends, on all of its paperwork, bills, etc. that I call the "gas leak hotline" immediately if I smell gas, not my plumber.
     
  • 12:49 He tells me that he's on call, and was with his family, just like my plumber, and gratuitously wishes me a Merry Christmas. I wish him the same and stopped him, much in the fashion of Peter Falk playing the role of Columbo: "Oh, just one question for you, sir." Him: "Yeah?" Me: "I'd hazard a guess you get a real kick out of having some kind of power over people who're ostensibly more financially fortunate than you are."

    Him: "What? What're you talking about?"

    Me: "I'm talking about tonight you're going to go home and have a Budweiser or two with either your family or your girlfriend or your parents, and sit in your little house with the second mortgage and think about how you screwed a guy today who's got things a little better off than you. I mean, you have to answer to your boss, and the union, and I could go on and on." Him: "Oh, fuck you." Me: "I got it right, didn't I. You know, I could buy four houses just like yours for cash (now he gets angry and wants to hit me) and thanks to you I'm gonna sit inside my restaurant and feel cold while you're nice and toasty warm at home."

    "It must feel nice to be able to make someone else unhappy, after all, it's free; and yes, sir, you've managed to make me extremely unhappy, so you win. To make people happy, like I do, it takes creativity and lots of money. You have neither creativity nor a sense of charity. I bet you've got no money either. But you won. You can make lots of people unhappy for free. You get the prize. (He gets in his truck and slams the door, drives away) I yell, "I'll see you at the Casino in the V.I.P. Room Saturday night."
     
  • 1:30 Thank God my plumber comes over and takes care of the hot water. However, he suggested to me that I not take a bolt-cutters to the lock on the furnace gas valve and fire it up because I can go to jail for it.
     
  • 1:40 Just as I'm about to take said bolt-cutters and completely ignore my plumber's advice, he asks me to wait a second. "Paul, did you have a pissing match with the guy?" I drop my head and mutter "yeah." "Well, then I'd expect the guy to come back out here on Christmas day just to inspect my work and if you've clipped the lock he's gonna have you locked up." It was at that moment that I think I most deeply resented no longer doing business in New York City, where a crisp $100 bill and perhaps a bottle of Scotch would've solved my Carbon Monoxide problem immediately.
     
  • MUCH LATER: A little girl walks into the restaurant and I greet her and say "Merry Christmas Eve, dear. What did you ask Santa Claus for this year?" Her response was precious: "You're supposed to say 'Happy Holidays'. Chanukah is over. I got some nice presents. Daddy told me only the goyim believe in Santa Claus."
     
  • We got cold. Really cold.
     
  • The bar crowd broke into a cappella Christmas Carols spontaneously. And it sounded really good, too!
     
  • I made lots of hot mulled apple cider, hot toddies, and served up Bushmills and Johnnie Walker Black Label neat, without ice.
     

The Disaster Movie Ends, Or Does It?

  • The day after Christmas, they have the old furnace broken into pieces and removed. The day after that, they have a new model in, and it's up and working Sunday night (New Year's Eve-Eve).
     
  • All the supplies for New Year's Eve have arrived, including 5 cases of Piper Sonoma Methode Champenoise which, although marked non-vintage, were from fabulous 2004 grapes. I drooled just at the sight of the lovely black and yellow boxes.
     
  • I got a call at 1:00 p.m. that my mother had broken her hip in a fall in a parking lot and was in Hartford Hospital.
     
  • I stayed with mother, much to the amazement of the nurses and doctors she spouted verbal vitriol at. After she'd completely lied about her medical history and penchant for doctor-shopping to the attending physician, I took him outside and told him which of her medications she'd decided to stop taking "because they upset her stomach," and added the fact that she takes 40 vitamin pills a day, despite the fact that toxicity caused her to suffer kidney stones the year before and she'd been advised by a physician (also a doctor I see, who's also on the Board of Trustees of the hospital) not to take anything more than a multi-vitamin and perhaps a little vitamin C and calcium.
     
  • She refused to be touched, much less moved, because of the exquisite pain that a break in the hip or upper leg causes. As much morphine as the doctors dared give her merely made her crazier, and did not, sadly, attenuate the pain in her broken leg. Her screams could be heard not just throughout the Emergency Room but also in other parts of the first floor.
     
  • Hospital protocol forbade her to sleep on the gurney she was on at the Emergency Room. She outright refused to have her bed changed. She also thought that the special device they were going to put on her leg to prevent the broken parts from rubbing together was for their (legal) protection, and not for her own well-being. She accused the nurses of "ganging up" on her.
     
  • She summons up all of the devious, sly controlling-speak she can and inflicts serious emotional pain on four nurses, a doctor, an aide, and myself. My dose was particularly hard to take. She said "When your father was dying you'd have never let him suffer like this."
     
  • We call my brother the lawyer. He talks to the nurses. There's no getting around this. They must change her bedclothes. She then vomits, and still insists on resting in vomitus and feces. Brother's her Power of Attorney. He tells them to do whatever they have to do despite her protestations.
     
  • (Cutest statement from the world's greatest nurse: "Did she get this way when your father died?" Me: "No. I've lived with it for 50 years (and 18 years of therapy)." She: "Honey, I know God's got a space for you in Heaven.)
     
  • I spent the entire evening there, asleep on a sofa they put in the hospital room. Every four hours mom and I were awakened so a nurse could take her vital signs.
     
  • I took her down to the pre-operative suite at noon on New Year's Eve. I bade her goodbye as the first shot they gave her to put her out took effect.
     
  • I drove home, cleaned up, put on clothes appropriate for the holiday, and arrived at work, not having slept for 30 hours, if my math's correct. I had yet another 12 hours to go.
     

Indeed, a Happy New Year!

The first seating New Year's Eve went like a breeze. The second seating was sold out, and, of course, there were little glitches, but everyone eventually got a seat.

We'd hired two bands this year; one old-school and one very young; but all jazz, and very well done by all. Some people danced, but not as many as we'd planned on; so the crowd was kinda squeezed back into the room and there was this massive space in front of the stage for people to move around. It was more like a "stand there and sip my drink and look hip" floor than a dance floor.

There wasn't a big rush on the kitchen (most people opted to eat late, as late as midnight). At 11:00 we put out the Champagne glasses. I got up in front of the crowd and pulled off a pretty cool trick that I got from the writeup authored by baffo included under How to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew.

This website gives instructions for removing the entire top of a Champagne bottle with a Saber. Suffice it to say that when one takes an antique Chinese sword and takes a crack at it, the trick's even more terrifyingly dangerous but deliciously decadent at the same time. I practiced three times, once with a great bottle of 5-year old Taittinger Cordon Rouge that would be my companion between 11:00 and the countdown, and two bottles of the Piper Sonoma. All three times worked like a charm. At 11:00 when I had to do it for the initial pouring, it took me two awkward swipes to get it to go; but go it did, and the crowd oohed and aahed.

I did not sing, for we had plenty of talented singers in the audience who came up and sat in with one band or the other during the course of the evening.

Dance we did. In fact, I danced too much and was rather ruddy and sweaty by 1:00 a.m. But of all the parties we've had, they've never matched the diversity of young and old, the diversity of cultures, and the genuine sense of family that we enjoyed that night. The most adorable pair of friends were an 86-year-old black woman and a teenage Chinese-American girl who danced together to a cool rendition of James Brown's "I Feel Good" by the two bands all working at the same time in a ten-piece jam session that was memorable.

There wasn't a single complainer, whiner, nor party-pooper. Nobody got too carried away with the booze. There were plenty of designated drivers, as well as plenty of couples who were within walking distance.

When the music stopped but the crowd lingered a bit longer, I treated myself to a big Scotch (I couldn't think of what else would mix with Champagne and not cause unspeakably painful consequences to head and stomach alike in the morning).

It was 2:30 in the morning by the time we'd cleaned up most of the mess and given the staff plenty to drink. Two of the chefs decided not to drink in the restaurant, so we had drivers to take us through the inevitable roadblock that we encountered. I was glad it was there, so we could rest assured that we'd arrive home safe and sound absent some horrible twist of fate.

We arrived home and I slept very nicely. The following afternoon at 3:00 they told me that the furnace had shut itself off. So off to work I went. I had to bleed a little air out of the pipes because the water level had gotten too low and the thing shut itself off. New Year's Day was just as delightfully, differently fun as the evening before.

There are few pleasures quite as satisfying as a bit of the hair of the dog that bit you on the morning after a holiday, when it's still a holiday nevertheless. Champagne mixed with fresh-squeezed orange juice and a little tiny bit of Chambord was the order of things before a lovely brunch repast brought to us by the chefs. Things got dangerous about dinner hour when I bet the bar crowd $10 apiece they didn't know what a "French 75" cocktail is. One fellow, a James Bond fan, got it right; it's a flute of Champagne with a shot of good Cognac poured in. We all had one. I don't remember what happened after that.

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